Published April 8, 2021
The UB Arts Collaboratory will welcome visiting artist Cecily Brown, one of the foremost painters of her generation, for its Spring 2021 Working Artists Lab.
Brown’s program, presented in partnership with Artist/City, Bortolami, NYC, is a collaboration with a diverse team of local artists and storytellers that will represent the first public art project of her distinguished career.
“I’m looking forward to my time at UB very much because this will be completely unlike anything I’ve done before,” Brown says. “I’m always looking to open art in ways that reach more people, and this is a big opportunity to do just that.”
And Brown’s excitement about the “big opportunity” ahead is more than a turn of phrase, since the team’s goal is ambitious: a mural soaring two stories high on the side of the Arts Building on the grounds of the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts (BAVPA).
“Working big is fun,” says Brown, who currently has a season-long exhibit on display at the Metropolitan Opera’s Gallery Met. “I’ve been working with mural-sized art over the years and have wanted to work on a public mural.”
Brown’s Buffalo visit begins with a series of three brainstorming sessions beginning April 16 with her collaborators: Naila Ansari, a SUNY Buffalo State assistant professor of theatre; Pam Glick, a widely exhibited painter from Buffalo; George Hughes, a UB professor of art; Jodi Lynn Maracle, an Indigenous artist and performer; Jae Skeese, a hip-hop musician and painter; Sara Zak, a UB MFA student; painter Julia Bottoms; and a group of BAVPA students selected by the school’s faculty.
Brown says the team will discuss Buffalo’s growing legacy of public art, its cultural heritage and the rich tradition of Mexican muralists and their influence on painters such as Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston.
“That history is so interesting since Pollack and Guston were among the artists hired by the Works Progress Administration, who learned under Thomas Hart Benton,” Brown says. “They did a lot of public art, which drew on the work of Mexican muralists.”
Brown will be in Buffalo from June 2-6 at The Space Between, the Arts Collaboratory’s pioneering new incubator at 431 Ellicott St., where all of the group’s source material will be on display. She’ll return for five days on June 27 as the mural’s final conception is realized and the team begins work at BAVPA.
“We have assembled a group of collaborators that represent a cross-section of diverse artists working in many disciplines from within the university and throughout our community who are well-versed in storytelling, painting and drawing,” says Bronwyn Keenan, director of the Arts Collaboratory. “These seven people represent our core group, but everyone is welcome to participate and share ideas while we’re at The Space Between.”
Keenan says the project is a true collaboration, more than an attempt to bend toward a particular style.
“On this kind of large-scale platform, the creative process functions like a collective dance with an organizational system for all the imagery,” she says.
That’s a point echoed by Brown, who usually works spontaneously, thinking on her feet in the studio, but will now adapt to a process at UB that resembles “a performance in itself.”
In the end, both Brown and Keenan agree that what emerges will be a story unique to Buffalo.
“I want this to be a Buffalo story,” Brown says. “Maybe I’ll be like a designer, fusing my ideas with those of the collaborators and combining them into an overall scheme, but I don’t want to think too much about it until I have a chance to speak with all the collaborators.”
Brown’s UB visit will be only her second trip to Buffalo, but she has always had a soft spot for the city. Her husband is a former New York Times architecture critic who has written about Buffalo’s architectural history, and she visited in 2000 when the Albright Knox Art Gallery became one of the first museums to buy one of her paintings.
But Keenan says the community will be seeing more of Brown in the future.
“This is a long-term commitment and Cecily has said that she’d like to return annually,” Keenan says. “It’s all part of a very exciting program and it goes to the heart of our Working Artists Labs. We want to show our students and the community what it’s like to be a working artist in the world. Cecily is in that world as a painter and social justice advocate.
“We’re fortunate to be able to welcome such a world-class talent to the university for an extended project in our community.”